The attempt to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is
The Turkish president’s decision, published in the Official Gazette at two
o’clock in the morning on 20 March 2021, violates Turkey’s own laws and
constitution. It is against Turkey’s laws because Turkey’s Parliament
unanimously ratified the Convention in 2012, and it is Parliament,
not the president, that has the authority to make the decision to withdraw.
This is why the Women’s Platform for Equality, known by its Turkish acronym
Eşitlik İçin Kadın Platformu
), representing over 300 women’s and LGBTQI+ organisations, declared this
decision “null and void”, and called on the Council of Europe to investigate
the legality of Turkey’s action. Bar associations in Turkey have also decried
the illegality of the president’s decision, taking legal action, along with
other organisations, in the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative
Legal experts state unequivocally that the president’s decision is
unconstitutional. Nevertheless, given that the separation of powers between
the judiciary and the executive is severely compromised, it is unclear what
the outcome of the applications to the Council of State – or a possible case
brought to Turkey’s Constitutional Court – will be. Should domestic
institutions fail to overturn the Presidential Decision, the case will likely
be brought to the European Court of Human Rights.
In a country where at least three women are murdered every day, attempting
to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is
Even if the Decision to withdraw were lawful, it is, of course, still wrong in
a country where at least three women are murdered every day. These crimes can
be described as
femicides or feminicides, both terms refer to the violent death of women based on their gender
–whether it occurs within the family, a domestic partnership, or any other
interpersonal relationship; in the community, by any person, or when it is
perpetrated or tolerated by the state or its agents, by action or omission.
As horrifying as
the rapes, stabbings, bludgeonings to death with iron pipes, beheadings, and
burnings of women
are, they are, sadly, the tip of the iceberg. Femicides occupy the extreme end
of the spectrum of gender-based violence. Women and LGBTQI+ people suffer
sexual, physical, economic and psychological violence of various degrees,
every day. Some survive, escape, and try against all odds to rebuild their
lives. Millions more endure systematic violence, amounting to torture. Then
there are femicides.
The Istanbul Convention’s significance stems from signatories’ obligation to
observe the “four P’s”: prevent all forms of violence against women
(VAW) and domestic violence; protect survivors;
prosecute perpetrators; and adopt integrated policies. The
Convention draws on a key feminist insight: promoting equality between men and
women is key to violence-free societies. Unfortunately, those ruling Turkey do
not believe in equality between men and women.
According to Prof. Feride Acar, announcing Turkey’s withdrawal from the
Istanbul Convention encourages perpetrators of violence. Acar, the founding
president of GREVIO, the expert body tasked with monitoring the implementation
of the Convention, made this statement at a meeting on 23 March organised in
conjunction with the 65th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
At the same meeting, feminist lawyer Hülya Gülbahar explained that the
withdrawal from the Convention is not just about violence against women or
women’s rights, but also a matter of human rights and democracy.
Turkey’s withdrawal from the Convention would have dire consequences beyond
The Istanbul Convention is an international treaty concerning fundamental
human rights, including the most fundamental: the right to live. On what
grounds was Turkey’s unprecedented move to withdraw from a human rights treaty
taken? Per the
statement by Turkey’s Communication Directorate:
“The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, was
hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalise homosexuality – which is
incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.”
This is terrifying.
The same pretext may be used for withdrawal from the European Convention on
Human Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the
Lanzarote Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and
In addition to its implications for international law and the future of
multilateralism, Turkey’s decision will have political ramifications across
Europe. Turkey is not the only country juxtaposing vague notions of “social
and family values” to the Convention’s concrete steps to ensure that women and
LGBTQI+ people live free from violence. Since Turkey and Poland’s first
statements about possible withdrawal from the Convention, feminists have been
gathering virtually, and acting in solidarity across borders. At a
meeting bringing together nearly 200 women from 15 counties last October, they compared the arguments against the Convention in
Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Bulgaria only to find that they are more
or less the same.
In eastern Europe, a coalition of right-wing, ultra-nationalist politicians
and the Catholic Church – funded by US-based groups with anti-abortion and
anti-LGBTQI+ agendas – are attacking the Convention, arguing that “gender
ideology” undermines the “traditional family” and “traditional values”. They
argue that the inclusion of “gender” in legal and education systems would pave
the way to the adoption of children by LGBTQI+ people. In Turkey, similarly,
the coalition includes Erdogan’s ruling party, ultra-nationalists, Islamist
parties, such as the Felicity Party, and some extremist religious networks.
Unable to manage the political and economic problems in their countries,
right-wing and increasingly authoritarian governments use a variety of tools
to suppress and vilify the opposition, including, notably, women’s and
feminist organisations. It is important to note that opponents of the Istanbul
Convention are marginal groups, making up only seven percent of the population
in Turkey, and 12 percent in Poland. By contrast, women’s organisations enjoy
widespread support in Turkey, and 84 percent of the general population think
that ensuring equality between men and women is among the state’s primary
And yet, Turkey’s president, with eager support from the speaker of the
bypassed parliament, announced his country’s withdrawal from the Convention,
pandering to the most marginal segments of society in a bid to retain power.
Bulgaria’s recent elections, where ultranationalist, misogynist, and
anti-Istanbul Convention parties suffered a significant defeat, suggest that
they may be betting on the wrong horse.
What is to be done?
Women’s and LGBTQI+ organizations such as the Women’s Platform for Equality –
or ESIK, which means “threshold” in Turkish – insist that the decision to
withdraw from the Convention is “null and void”. The Council of Europe and the
European Union have expressed their deep concerns. However, it is clear that
they – and the Venice Commission – also need to conduct a legal analysis of
Turkey’s move, and use every political tool they can to reverse this decision.
Letting Turkey take this step is a threshold best left uncrossed.